Monthly Archives: September 2016

Befriending Is…


From the very beginning, the biblical narrative insists that human beings are not isolated individuals, we are created for community. Few Christians I know would dispute the idea that we’re made for community. In many cases, though, the communities in which we gather function like isolated individuals. We have been so deeply influenced by the values of individualism and personal responsibility so deeply held by our society, that we have begun to think we can exist on our own. When fear is added to this potent recipe of individualism and personal responsibility, it becomes really easy for Christians to develop a toxic self-centeredness that results in withdrawal from others or, worse, the kind of antagonism toward others that leads us to build both figurative and literal walls of hostility between ourselves and others.

But the Spirit of God calls us to something more. That calling often comes from poets and prophets, people who throughout the ages have called us to true community, to an outward orientation rather than an inward obsession. This vision of community sometimes seems idealistic, like nothing more than a pipe dream. And yet what these poets and prophets know is that if we commit ourselves to the practice of befriending, the Spirit of God can bring about something more wonderful than we could ask or imagine.

befriending is:

developing a welcoming relationship with someone we don’t yet understand, because we care more about them than any disagreement we may have with them.

Nearly 400 years ago, John Donne penned the following words, words that speak profoundly, despite the patriarchal language and dated expressions.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

More recently, author George Saunders and the late musician Solomon Burke, have expressed in their own ways the same sentiments as Donne. Saunders uses satire to highlight the degree to which we’ve absorbed individualism into our hearts and minds. Burke, on the other hand, belts out a sermonic plea to recognize that our lives are bound up with every other life. We are never just individuals, we are always part of a community. Beyond that, we’re part of a community far broader than most of us realize or admit, and if everybody in that community isn’t free, “none of us are free.”

So where do we begin? Frederick Buechner offers us some helpful guidance for getting started with the practice of befriending in his book Whistling In The Dark.

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces, but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

What would such “seeing” look like in action? Naomi Feil offers us a pretty good example.

May God give us ears to hear the words of these poets and prophets, whose words about community highlight the desperate need for us to become people committed to befriending. And may the Spirit plant these words deep within our hearts, so that we might begin to live them out each and every day.

Instruments Of Your Peace

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of befriending:

1: Choose a social/ethnic/racial/religious group that makes you uncomfortable. Commit to praying each day for this group in the coming week. Avoid praying prayers of criticism, judgment, or destruction. Instead, ask for God to help this group experience God’s life-changing love and grace, perhaps even through you.
2: Choose someone you don’t know at a social gathering (church, gym, party, etc.). Intentionally initiate a friendly conversation that helps them feel more comfortable and helps you get to know them better.
3: Whether you live in an urban neighborhood or on a few acres outside of town, choose someone who lives close by who you don’t know all that well. Be especially aware of and kind to them this week. See how God works through simple acts of friendship and kindness.
4: Shop or eat at a place of business located in an area of town you usually avoid. This will allow you to rub shoulders with people you wouldn’t normally encounter. Pay attention to how being in an unfamiliar place around unfamiliar people makes you feel. Imagine what it might take for you to connect with them on a deeper level.

Befriending Playlist

This week’s playlist includes songs that touch on themes of empathy, appreciating our differences, our need to love and be loved, and the calling to befriend that is at the heart of what it means to be God’s people.

Learning Is…

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When I think about the most faithful followers of Jesus I know, they all have one thing in common: they are lifelong learners with an unquenchable desire to know God better and to become more like Jesus as the Spirit works within them. As we continue to think about what it would look like to form a healthy foundation for spirituality, it is crucial to spend some time reflecting on and cultivating the practice of learning in our lives.

learning is:

being formed in the image of Christ by listening to his Word with an open heart and practicing his Way with a trusting spirit.

One of the best ways we can continue learning is by regularly listening to the words of Scripture. Yet for many Christians it can be challenging to continue to approach Scripture with hearts and minds that are open to new insights. Far too often, Scripture becomes a subject to be mastered rather than something that masters us.

In the video below, N.T. Wright describes what it is like to come to Scripture with a completely different goal than mastery. I hope these words will shape the way you approach Scripture the next time you open it up to read.

Jesus, Let Us Come To Know You

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of learning:

1: Try memorizing a short, meaningful passage of scripture that can find a home in your heart. For example: Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 6:9-13; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 12:1-3. Take careful note this week of when you find yourself in situations that call these words from your heart to your mind.
2: Try reading one of the New Testament Gospels in one sitting (FYI: Mark is the shortest, Luke is the longest). Taking in the entire story at once is a very different experience from reading bits and pieces here and there. As you read, try to discover if there is something new about Jesus you’ve never really seen or noticed as much before. How can you incorporate this characteristic of Jesus into your own life?
3: Try reading the following psalms over the next week: Psalm 8, 13, 23, 46, 51, 121, and 139 (one for each day). How do these ancient words impact how you see yourself, your relationships, and the situations you find yourself in? In what ways do these words accurately describe your own thoughts and feelings?

Learning Playlist

The songs in this week’s playlist center upon the theme of learning. The first few songs in the playlist deal with the difficulty we have listening to God. The rest of the songs plead with God to speak to us, that we might be transformed more into the likeness of Jesus.

Enduring Is…

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In many ways, the first three practices we’ve focused on–praying, fasting, and slowing–have been about stripping away what is unhealthy in our lives–self-reliance, self-indulgence, and busyness. These practices all help us clear space for God to work within us.

Today, we begin to turn toward practices that help us build a foundation of healthy spirituality, now that we’ve spent some time dealing with the unhealthy stuff. The practice of enduring is vitally important if we are to be open to God’s work within us.

enduring is:

moving past the need to make our pain mean something logical, so we can start to make our pain do something meaningful.

The reality, however, is that it’s not easy. Endurance isn’t exactly a strong suit for most of us. When we don’t understand, we want answers. When we’re hurting, we want relief. And it all makes sense, except sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes there is no relief. Sometimes what we need is to stick it out, to keep on putting one foot in front of the other, to cultivate a commitment to the practice of enduring.

It is difficult to speak of enduring, though because so many of us are quick to try to fix things. How many of us have heard trite cliches like “There’s a reason for everything,” or “God had a more important plan we just don’t understand?” How many of us have spoken words like these, words that despite their good intentions are dismissive and hurtful to those dealing with great sorrow? Of course, our faith ought to have something to say about enduring, and it does. But before we can ever say anything, we first need to listen. We need to listen to stories of suffering, stories of trials, stories of difficulty. Not in a way that we’re constantly thinking about how to respond, whether in word or deed; just listening–nothing more, nothing less.

The following video captures one such story. Listen, just listen to the story. Don’t think about what you could do or what you could say. Just listen faithfully to the story David Varner has to tell.

As people of faith, when we hear such stories, or when we go through similar times that call for enduring, what we need is not a cliche or an easy answer, what we need more than anything else is to be reminded that in the practice of enduring we find ourselves in good company. We follow one who knows better than anyone else what it is to endure, and who will walk alongside us when we find ourselves having to give this enduring thing a go.

I’m not sure anyone captures this reality better than Michael Card. In his song “Come Lift Up Your Sorrows,” Card sums it all up so well when he sings, “Come worship him with your wounds, for he’s wounded too.” May this song be a catalyst that helps you embrace the practice of enduring.

It Is Well With My Soul

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of enduring:

1: Take 30 minutes to make a list of all of the things that give you hope. Put it somewhere visible as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.
2: Try to remember a time in your life when God carried you faithfully through suffering. Find a way to share that story with someone.
3: Try to reach out to someone you know who is hurting, whether by making a call, writing a note, visiting a hospital room or nursing home, or sharing coffee or a meal with them. Don’t try to fix them or explain their hurt. Just be there.
4: If you’re currently enduring pain in your life that is a real struggle and you’re trying to bear it alone, find someone to share that burden with this week.

After trying one or more of these enduring experiences, take a few minutes to reflect on how they impacted you. What unique things has God shown you through these experiences? What are some ways you can stop avoiding pain at all costs for the sake of others?

Enduring Playlist

This week’s playlist works through the stages we seem to go through when we find ourselves in position to practice enduring: reckoning with the challenges we have to endure, crying out for help, and trusting that God will carry us through one way or another.

Slowing Is…

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It’s now week 3 of our exploration of spiritual practices that open up space in our lives for God. This week we turn our attention to slowing.

“…caught up in our own busyness, frantically running from one crisis to the next in a cycle that looks less like loving the Messiah and more like trying to become one.”

–Phileena Heuertz and Darren Prince

For so many of us busyness is a badge of honor. It gives us a sense that we matter, that we’re valuable. And yet Phileena Heuertz and Darren Prince hit the nail on the head in observing that our busyness is often a means to play God.

“We meet wonderful people, but lose them in our busyness. We’re, as the saying goes, all over the place.”

–Mary Oliver

Not only does busyness seriously inhibit our relationship with God, it also makes it extremely difficult to have meaningful relationships with others. If we are to be faithful in loving God and loving people, in living out the greatest commands, we are going to have to figure out how to make a commitment to slowing.

slowing is:

doing less on purpose, so we can become more in God’s presence.

This message by Randy Harris provides a deeper look into one of the natural outgrowths of slowing: silence.

Be Still And Know

Here are a few simple ways to open your life to God this week through the practice of slowing:

1: Try spending time with someone else without any agenda or expectations other than to enjoy their presence.
2: Try turning down an opportunity for activity this week for the sole purpose of having additional time to rest.
3: Try to make it 24 hours without asking anyone in your life to “hurry up.”
4: Try to make a plan that enables you to have a 12-24 hour Sabbath in which you are able to refrain from work.

After trying one or more of these slowing experiences, take a few minutes to reflect on how they impacted you. Do you still struggle with guilt over not constantly producing and achieving? Why do you think this is? If you find this to be a struggle, ask God to set you free from guilt so that you can make slowing a regular part of your daily life.

Slowing Playlist

This week’s playlist begins by acknowledging how easily we get caught up in the busyness of life. Then the songs turn toward the theme of slowing as a way of leaving behind the frenetic pace at which too many of us live.